Digital Marketing, Thought Leaders

6 Steps to Developing a Nonprofit Digital Marketing Strategy

April 9, 2020

by Kayla Matthews

Digital Marketing Journalist, Productivity Theory

The marketing needs of nonprofits are a bit different from other types of businesses and require some specific steps to come up with a workable strategy. 

Your nonprofit organization is for a good cause, so why wouldn't people donate to it? It turns out marketing nonprofit organizations isn't as easy as it sounds. For starters, if you don't get the word out, people may not even realize your nonprofit needs help.

The information available to standard businesses isn't always valuable to your specific situation, either.

The marketing needs of nonprofits are a bit different from other types of businesses and require some specific steps to come up with a workable strategy.

There are approximately 1.56 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, and they cover every topic imaginable — from animal rescues to cancer research. 

number of non-profit organizations in the U.S. increasing over 20 years


Even though your charity might cover a very different concern than others in your city, you are still competing for philanthropic dollars as well as the time and resources of a pool of volunteers. 

If you want to succeed, you must study ways of developing a digital marketing strategy. Fortunately, there are some specific steps you can take.

6 Steps to Developing a Nonprofit Digital Marketing Strategy

  1. Set specific marketing goals
  2. Learn marketing skills
  3. Know your audience
  4. Gather the right tools
  5. Choose advertising channels
  6. Create a marketing plan

1. Set Specific Marketing Goals

While you can't always be sure how a particular campaign might be received, you can set some goals for your efforts. 

Look at past marketing campaigns of your nonprofit and compare the results. This gives you an idea of a minimum goal you might set as far as fundraising, name recognition or new volunteers coming in.

The goal doesn't always have to be monetary, of course, but you should know how the result benefits your group. 

Utilize SMART goal strategies as you would with any goal you set — create specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-based goals. 

2. Learn Marketing Skills

There are some basic marketing skills you should learn, even if promotions are only a small part of what you do. 

Take online courses in marketing, talk to other nonprofits about what they've done to bring in donations and study industry publications for ideas. 

Not only is online advertising far less expensive than print methods, but you can target an ad to reach a very specific demographic. 

Creating a simple donor page on your website, for example, lets you target both new and current benefactors

3. Know Your Audience

More than 40% of public charities need volunteers to keep running. 

People volunteered an average of 8.8 hours per year


People volunteered an average of 8.8 hours per year. Your audience is made up of volunteers and financial contributors. 

Creating a digital strategy for nonprofits should include creating personas for both your donors and your volunteers. 

This allows you to segment your campaigns and reach just the right audience at the right time.

4. Gather the Right Tools

Although there are some things you can automate through tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite, effective marketing requires active management.

You'll need a team of people to keep the buzz going and the right tools to help you all. 

Choose tech- and internet-savvy teammates, but don't forget real-world promotions either, such as setting up a booth at a local craft fair or giving speeches to groups in the area. 

These people will represent your organization, so make sure they are trained well and have excellent social skills.

Some of the tools you should look into that will help everyone on the team include:

  • Team management tools, such as Trello, Asana, or Basecamp
  • Social media scheduling tools, such as Buffer and Hootsuite
  • Analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Hotjar
  • Graphic design software, such as Canva
  • Email services, such as Mailchimp or Mailerlite
  • Advertising tools, such as Google, which provides Google Ad Grants for nonprofits

These tools will get you started, and you can add additional features and automation as you learn what works best for your organization. 

5. Choose Advertising Channels

Once you know who your audience is, your next step is figuring out where they spend time. 

For example, if you run a nonprofit for rescue animals, then you would turn to Facebook and target people who have liked other rescue groups.

You can narrow your segment down by location, interest in animals, age group, and so on. If your target is mainly women, for example, then you might advertise on Pinterest

On the other hand, if your target is millennial men, then you'd likely turn to a medium such as Instagram or Reddit.

6. Create a Marketing Plan

Spend time studying what others are doing on the channels you've chosen, and which posts seem to gain success. 

Are people interacting with posts and sharing them? Now, create a marketing plan for at least three months based on your observations. 

Maybe, for example, you discovered that the posts with an image are shared more often, so you decide to share photos and descriptions of available rescue dogs.

Don't worry if your plan isn't perfect right now. You just need a plan for what is getting posted, and who is doing which part of the task. You can always adjust your campaign as you go along.

Consider upcoming holidays and big national celebrations and try to plan for posts that tie into what you're doing. 

For a dog rescue initiative, for example, you might use national ice cream day as a time to share a treat with your furry friends and explain what types of foods are dangerous to dogs or even a recipe for homemade dog ice cream. 

Develop a Marketing Plan for Your Nonprofit Organization

Now that you have a plan in place, it's time to execute it. 

Assign tasks via your project management software and based on the specific skillsets of different team members. 

Have people check off items as they are completed. Spend time evaluating what worked well and what needs replacing.

Now, simply repeat your efforts, changing things as you go. Over time, you'll learn what works best for your specific audience and how to reach the donors you need and draw in new volunteers.

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